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The Himalayan Arc takes a long, hard look at the uneasy realities of the region

It’s an enjoyable, enlightening collection of accounts, essays, poems, and photographs that make up the Himalayan experience, but doesn’t shy away from revelations that could make one uneasy.

books Updated: May 23, 2018 18:57 IST
Prannay Pathak
Prannay Pathak
Hindustan Times
The Himalayan Arc,Namita Gokhale,The Himalayan Arc: Journeys East of South-East
The Himalayan Arc is an enjoyable, enlightening collection of accounts, essays, poems, and photographs on the Himalayan experience.

How do you imagine the Himalayas? We do know that beyond its national limits, the mountain chain extends into as far as Afghanistan in the west, and to the east, extrudes into Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar, but how often do we consider the fact’s geopolitical implications?

Compiled by acclaimed Indian author, and co-founder of the Jaipur Literary Fest, Namita Gokhale, The Himalayan Arc: Journeys East of South-East is an unlikely book about travel and experience, about communities and their relationship with their land, and the spectral nature of frontiers. The ramparts of India’s political northern fortress, the geographical shield that blocks the harsh Siberian cold from getting into the country, and a touristic pride for all of us, the massive mountainous strip has, for the longest time, been a battleground of conflicts of all sizes and forms between us and our neighbours.

The book spans genres and forms in under 30 individual chapters — fictional and non-fictional accounts, essays, photograph series and poems. There are intimate portraits of places from the insider’s perspective, deeply personal accounts of journeys interspersed with mysticism and suffering, and pieces on diplomacy and espionage. Emerging contemporary authors regularly shine through (Meghna Pant’s Boongthing is a story about a couple on a honeymoon to Nathu La and the mystic revelation that awaits them there; Prajwal Parajuly’s disenchantment with the ‘construction malaise’ and state neglect that afflicts Sikkim; and Nepalese author and critic Sushma Joshi’s account of waking up in the rubble after the 2015 Kathmandu earthquake), as do acclaimed figures (Pushpesh Pant’s short chapter on mountain cuisine/s; Indira Goswami’s depiction of a strife-torn landscape as she journeys into the heart of Assam to witness a traumatic breakdown of an old couple; Janice Pariat’s story about a lonely man who sits down to listen to another man’s story of heartbreak in a Shillong bar).

A section on photographs documents the traditions and settings of life in the Himalayas, mostly in the 19th century, and another on poetry from India’s northeastern states, with a helpful introduction by Aruni Kashyap, has poems about violence and civil strife, and also those about folklore. Ronid ‘Akhu’ Chingangbam’s Your Constitution Has Nothing for Me is a lyrical disavowal of the state’s policies, invoking the visceral images of blood and war.

The book is an unprecedented attempt to shed a geopolitical light on a stretch of land, a region that has so far been imagined as having a curiously singular identity, which ceases to exist beyond political borders. However, experiences from the arc transcend any sort of boundaries, and change of culture, practices, beliefs, and language is fluid.

It’s an enjoyable, enlightening collection, but doesn’t shy away from revelations that could make one uneasy. No journey is without its hiccups and the contemplative nature of a few accounts is not sure of appealing to all. Despite an eclectic mélange of pieces spanning narratives from countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar the Indian states of Sikkim, Assam, Mizoram, the book misses a pervasive common thread, which could get irksome. Nevertheless, The Himalayan Arc makes for a compelling collection of work, important especially in the current times.

  • Title: The Himalayan Arc: Journeys East of South-east
  • Editor: Namita Gokhale
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Price: ₹699

First Published: May 23, 2018 18:57 IST